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November 20, 2014

Mandatory Recording Of Police Street Encounters May Become A Reality In New York City

By Michael H. Joseph

New York City’s council is considering passing a law which will require police who make stops of civilians during street encounters to identify themselves by handing out cards with their names and rank on them to those that they come in contact with. The law which seeks to promote better community relations will require police officers to inform those whom they are trying to search that they are not required to consent to a search and that they can refuse to be searched unless probable cause is present. The law would also require that the conversation with the target be recorded by audio or that the consent be in writing to document that the search was consented to. Certainly documenting what actually occurs reduces the instances of police misconduct because often when the police overreach, it is the citizen’s word against theirs and criminal court Judges too often give the police the benefit of the doubt. This law would only apply in New York City’s five boroughs including Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. The law would have no effect on Westchester, Rockland or Long Island or other parts of New York State.

This law is likely to be ignored by the police or they are likely to engage in further twisting and manipulations of fact to create probable cause because a street encounter, where cop thinks someone is doing something illegal or has a hunch often does not have probable cause, but is nevertheless determined to search the individual anyway. The rule does not mandate recording of what occurs prior to a street encounter, so the law has no protection from the police inventing facts to create probable cause prior to the encounter occurring In other words, if the police were going to obey the law, this law would not be necessary because the Constitution prohibits the type of street encounter or traffic stop and search that happens every day in Westchester and New York City. While motivated by good intentions, our New York City criminal defense lawyers are skeptical as to whether this law will result in compliance or an even greater amount of fabrication to justify baseless searches than is already occurring. What is also unclear is what the remedy will be for failure to comply and whether Judges will suppress evidence, especially in felony cases that are prosecuted at a federal level, where police officers do not comply with or evade a City ordinance.

If law makers are serious about eliminating the problems of harassing searches without probable cause by police officers, our New York City criminal defense lawyers recommend that the police wear continuously recording cameras. Municipalities that have instituted these measures have seen a drop in police misconduct complaints because police officers are more likely to follow the rules when they know that they are being recorded. Also, cameras protect officers from spurious claims of excessive force when the force was legitimately used and serve to further the truth seeking function of the Court system by showing what really happened. Our White Plains criminal defense lawyers believe that a camera is the only unbiased witness that cannot twist or manipulate facts.

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